by Timothy Elphick
AFTER six years in the making, the final version of the Church's new "universal catechism" was approved by the Pope this week.
Pope John Paul II met with members of the catechism's preparatory committee in the Vatican to thank them for their work and to express his "official approval" of the text.
But the catechism has still not been made public by the Holy See, which is still translating the original French text into other languages. It is not expected to be published this year.
Pope John Paul said the 450page Catechism of the Catholic Church faithfully reflected the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It presented the Christian message "in its integrity and completeness" to the peoples of the modem world, he said.
The new catechism, the first for 80 years, was conceived at the 1985 Synod of Bishops, and was envisaged as a reliable point of reference for national bishops' conferences and dioceses wanting to prepare catechisms of their own.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the pontifical Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stressed that the new work was not designed to replace locally-produced catechisms.
But the cardinal said it would be "opportune" for local Churches to review the catechisms they used and to make revisions were necessary.
Pope John Paul indicated that he had personally steered the project in its closing stages, and that the final text incorporated revisions he had made in recent weeks. The catechism as it now stood was "the fruit of a truly exceptional Church collaboration," he said.
The text underwent significant changes after a worldwide consultation in 1989 with bishops and theologians from across the world. As many as 24,000 proposed changes were considered by the catechism's papally-appointed panel of cardinals and bishops.
The catechism is divided into four main parts, which concentrate on the profession of the faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, the Ten Commandments and Christian prayer.
Vatican sources said two of the most difficult chapters to assemble were those on the "dignity of humanity", considering the morality of human acts and passions, and the "human community", which examines social justice issues.
According to the Vatican, the catechism makes ample reference to the Scriptures, the traditions of the Church, the liturgy, canon law and the lives of the saints.
It is believed to include new sins such as tax dodging and contamination of the environment.